Saturday, March 31, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 8 (Marjane Satrapi)

Persepolis
Satrapi, Marjane
Persepolis


Sent to me by the publisher in anticipation of her lecture in the Babel series in 2009.

My memory of her time in Buffalo is a little fuzzy. I think it was one of those whirlwind visits, wherein the author arrives about an hour before the first event and leaves early the next morning. I remember she traveled with her husband, Mattias, who is, I think, Swedish. He translated or co-translated Persepolis into English, if memory serves.

I remember her being very funny and charming on stage. She was a heavy smoker, and I think she may have even taken a smoke break between the lecture and Q&A. My only other distinct memory is of taking the two of them to Wasabi, to pick up some late night takeout sushi.

Not long after that came the uprising in Iran following disputed elections. I remember watching video of Satrapi at some kind of press event reading a statement in support of the protesters. It looked more like a press conference at a film festival.

It's a strange experience to see someone speaking on television to a global audience about pressing world affairs and to also have a memory of that same person sitting in the front seat of your beat up Honda, holding a plastic carryout container in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

It's hard put the two together.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 7 (Ed Sanders)

The Family
Sanders, Ed
The Family


Full disclosure: my library, which I have pruned mercilessly in preparation for the move, is now in boxes. I took about ten days worth of photos in order to keep it going until we arrive in New Haven. Thus, for the first time, I will be writing from a photo of a book rather than one held in my hands. I don't think it will change much, except I won't be able to examine the book physically as I write. And I'll have to find excerpts on the internet -- or not post them at all.

Anyhow, this was given to me by the author. It is inscribed. I can't recall what the inscription says, even though I read it when I took the photo the other day.

When I first took the Artistic Director position at Just Buffalo, the organization was in pretty dire financial straights. Debora Ott, the founder, had called all her old poetry connections and asked them to come to Buffalo to read for free, in order that we might raise a little money.

Many, including Ed, agreed. We put on an Ed Sanders Weekend at Just Buffalo's old offices in the Tri-Main center. On Friday night, he gave a reading to a packed house. He sang and read poems and did all his awesome Ed Sanders things. When it was over, he got called out for an encore, something I have never seen, before or since, at a poetry reading.

The next day, he performed a workshop on Investigative Poetics. Again, awesome.

Finally, on Saturday night, he gave a talk about the Manson family, in honor of this expanded re-release of his classic piece of investigative journalism. He told all kinds of amazing stories about the family, about getting threatening Christmas cards from Manson himself, et al. A great weekend, as I recall.

I've worked with Ed many times since on various Olson projects. He's one of my all time favorite people on the poetry scene.

This is not the copy of the book I read, though. I bought an hardcover edition, which was actually a softcover rebound for library use. It had a creepy green cover with a much scarier image of Manson on it. I sold it a few years ago. I haven't read the expanded edition.

I did just finish reading Ed's highly entertaining memoir, FUG YOU. Unfortunately, I loaned it out, so it will not appear on PBH any time soon. Weirdly, all the copies of his poetry that I own are on a DVD he gave me at a conference on Black Mountain a few years back. It's also in a box.

Anyhow, three cheers for Ed Sanders. May he live long!

Here's a link his version of Squeaky Fromme's story, as told in Oui magazine, circa 1976. It's a scan of the actual article, with drawings and everything!

http://truthontatelabianca.com/threads/ed-sanders-tells-squeakys-story-in-oui-magazine.4082/

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 6 (Kaia Sand)

Interval
Sand, Kaia
Interval

Sent to me by the author.

In 2007 Kaia helped me set up a reading at the Spare Room series in Portland, OR by putting me in touch with Maryrose Larkin. We exchanged books, though we never got a chance to meet.

It is inscribed:

9/15/07

For Michael:

Toward future conversations!

Kaia

"hope is resistance to soundbites"

My bookmark is at page 41. The poem is called "Cordials."

Cordials

some kind of public

house, warming
hut, citizen's hall

belonging to the heart.

all things which be cordial,

that is to say, which do in any way
comfort the heart.

and that I laugh.

aromatized and sweetened.

casting forms on
nightly walls, lovely
people, lovely man.
I come to think
my way to the next
day, but tonight,
cordiality, a tipped
glass.

a daughter
I am at the wake.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 5.1 (J.D. Salinger)

Nine Stories
Salinger, J.D.
Nine Stories

I think I may have bought this at St. Mark's Books. I have a vague recollection of being supremely disappointed with this particular design concept when it appeared in the early nineties. I think all of Salinger's books came out looking like this: bland, lifeless, uninspired. The earlier versions were simple, but not dull. These were just plain ugly.

In today's image, you can see that I am, once again, packing up my library. I am ruthlessly culling books from it, more than during any previous move. I think I might actually get rid of more books than I have acquired since the last one in July, which would be miraculous. I am packed up to "O" so far, and should have the rest in boxes by today or tomorrow.

Some of the boxes from the last move, which have been twice loaned to friends, have returned and are in use once again. The rest of my books will go in boxes I bought from a couple of Native American ex-online-cigarette-brokers put out of business by New York State. They had a small warehouse full of boxes once used for mailing cartons of cigarettes that they were selling for $5 a bundle.

The warehouse, a small cinderblock building in a highly industrial area of Niagara Falls, also doubled as a band rehearsal space. In the front room, a drum kit stood on a dais raised about six inches above the floor, which was pretty moist. Fortunately, the boxes had not been badly affected by the the water.

We are moving in just over a week. I should be able to maintain until then, but production may be a tad patchy moving into the first couple of weeks of April. I plan to clearly mark all boxes containing books from S-Z so that I can locate them easily when we arrive.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 5 (J.D. Salinger)

The Catcher in the Rye"
Salinger, J.D.
The Catcher in the Rye


I have no clue where or when I acquired this book. It's not the one I used in high school, and I am pretty sure it's not the one I used to teach high school in New York. I feel like I bought it used somewhere in order to have a copy of the book that looked like it did when I first read it.

At a certain point, the book had taken on the aura of a religious object to me.

Catcher in the Rye is largely responsible for my becoming a reader at all. When I first got sent to a private high school, against my wishes, I was mailed a summer reading list that included Dickens' David Copperfield. I tried to read it, but failed. Not only did I fail, I decided that I failed because of David Copperfield. I hated the book so much that I decided I would never read again.

I kept this promise for two solid years, regularly coming home with D's and C's in my English classes.

Then this book appeared on the summer reading list, with its famous opening line, "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kid of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

Here was a writer that spoke my language. That the rest of the book was an angst-ridden, obscenity laced tirade by a troubled, white, private-schooled teen only added to my love for it. I read it front to back in a single day and then again and again. It took a long time for me to be able to read another book, this one spoke to me so powerfully.

I was later shocked to discover that my students, most of them lower middle class minorities from the five boroughs, did not find Holden so interesting. Most thought him whiny and complaining and really unjustified in his unhappiness.

Still, the book holds a special place in my heart, even though I am unlikely to ever read it again. In fact, I hope Salinger actually did quit writing. One great book is enough for any writer, and besides, even if he did keep writing there is no way to anything he wrote could compare to this, given its cultural significance and the expectations readers would have for the new work.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 4.1 (Tomaž Šalamun)

Poker
Šalamun, Tomaž 
Poker

I acquired this from Matvei Yankelevich, one of the publishers of Ugly Duckling Presse. Not sure if he gave it to me or if I bought it. I think I may have paid for it. Not sure when or where this took place. It was quite some time ago, possibly in New York. Anyhow, I remember Matvei telling me about the cover design. The diamond pattern was letterpressed and has an amazing texture to it. It's really a lovely book, from the cover design to Joshua Beckman's translations.

from Poker


What Is Abomination
Abomination is when you come home

and say heat up the stove
and no one heats up the stove for you
and it's February


be gone be gone
the most global abomination is peas

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 4 (Tomaž Šalamun)

The Four Questions of Melancholy
Šalamun, Tomaž
The Four Questions of Melancholy

Given to me by the publisher in anticipation of a reading by the author in Buffalo in, I think, 2004 or 5.

I don't remember much about this visit. I remember picking Šalamun up at the airport and driving him to his hotel, but my memory of our conversations is very vague. I think he was living in Berlin at the time on some kind of residency. He read in the Hibiscus Room at Just Buffalo's old location in the Tri-Main Center. It was a pretty well-attended reading.

Beyond that, my mind is drawing a blank.

I remember Ethan Paquin being very excited that we were bringing him into read.

I remember being surprised he was friends with some of the language poets, not seeing much of an aesthetic kinship between their work.

And that's about all.

from The Four Questions of Melancholy

[untitled]

Lord, how I rise
how strong I am, terrible and wise
how I undress, peel and migrate
it's done by you god, I kill


there are flowers in the garden, the air walks into my mouth
there are butterflies in the desert, meat in mothers
if I put a watch around my wrist, I jubilate
drums, drums, steam flows, pours

blissful fuck sovereign, your food is ours

peach trees, bodies, mountains, smoke
the dead, their skin, necklaces
I pluck golden teeth, sell them for bread


angels stand up from the sea, cherubim flutter
my verses are like splitting rocks
crushing jaws and shouting, let me eat lord
let me be your supreme law all the way to the end.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 3.2 (Jerome Sala)

I Am Not A Juvenile Delinquent
Sala, Jerome
I Am Not A Juvenile Delinquent


Given to me by the author. Inscribed:

For Mike
From Jerome

5/14/99

I remember when Jerome gave this to me. I came down to the city and went out to dinner with him and Elaine. Afterwards, they took me back to their apartment on Houston St. and showed me all of their books.

They'd both been part of the punk-art-poetry scene in Chicago in the late seventies and early eighties. This book is a great example of the aesthetic. It feels like a hybrid of a poetry book and an underground magazine. It was published by Stare Press in Chicago in 1985.

On the back cover, it says the price of the book is "Just $5.00." More awesome than the book design or the price, however, is the author photo on the back.


Poetry needs more mullets.

from I Am Not A Juvenile Delinquent

The Theory of the Avant-Garde


looking over the cover of The Theory of the Avant-Garde
we realize it's been us all along who've got this incredible
           nostalgia for the avant-garde
some people like the idea of simonized cars, empty parking lots, 

          "church keys," psychedelic music, beer
but that all makes us puke like so much else
the people rattling their bags in the hallway make us puke
the thump downstairs–someone getting kicked in the ass or 
          head beat into the wall–makes us puke
because we can no longer believe we're different from them 

         and this makes us puke
and we now hate everyone we see, and everything we read, because we're 
          jealous that it's so uplifting
and this makes us puke
but we've got to take a breather here
because the sun seems to be going down–just like in Africa,
          ploop!
and we've got to turn on the lights which make us puke

before we go blind

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 3.1 (Jerome Sala)

Look Slimmer Instantly
Sala, Jerome
Look Slimmer Instantly


Given to me by the author. Inscribed:

For Mike
From Jerome

I brought Jerome to Buffalo along with Elaine Equi in, I think 2006 or 7. I can't quite recall. I'd had both of them read here separately on previous occasions, but never on the same bill. They read in the back of Rust Belt Books. The other time I brought Jerome was early on in my Buffalo days. He read with Charles Bernstein, an inspired pairing IMHO.

Seeing Elaine and Jerome read together was also a pleasure, and not just because they're married. Both treat popular culture in their work, but in very different ways. Whereas Elaine's approach is more introspective and personal, teasing out hidden meanings behind cultural signifiers, Jerome celebrates and critiques pop culture's flatness, spray painting over top of it to achieve his poetic effect.

They're quite complementary, those two.

Look Slimmer Instantly


Read this poem.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 3 (Jerome Sala)

Raw Deal: New & Selected Poems 1980-1984
Sala, Jerome
Raw Deal: New & Selected Poems 1980-1994


I am not sure where I acquired this. Elaine Equi may have given it to me. I know I got it around the time I took a workshop with her at the New School, in the Fall of 1996. I had a roommate at the time, P., and we used to have a ball finding hilarious poems in this book to read aloud to one another. They're not hard to find.

The last page of the book seems to have come loose. I have a memory of it's having done so way back when, of this book always being in kind of rough shape. Now that I think about it, my memory is that the spine is broken and several pages are falling out. This is not the case. It's just the last page, the edge of which is a little frayed from having stuck out past the cover for fifteen years. It's slightly stained in the corner, probably by a splash of coffee.

There's a bookmark inside on page 87 which appears to have been torn from an envelope. On one side, stray words from an ad appear: "To Add Home."

The poem on page 87 is called "National Endowment." It reads:

Even though poetry is written with your
cock, cunt, tits, balls, mouth and asshole
it is never the by-product of pure stimulation,
inspiration or emotion. How can it be, considering
the intense bureaucratic savvy required to mine
the expert value of your internal markets? Your
mother sucks cocks in hell, but a poem can never 
exist in a free market economy. It takes an almost
Stalinistic approach to Central Planning; though
as you gain in experience, now and then you may loosen
your control over its sweaty populations. Your poem
should wear an armband, with your favorite insignia.
That way, everyone will want to kiss its ass.
Stomping and farting are permissible, but only when
interlaced within a clever conceptual framework
that casts an ironic glance o'er the troops in the field.
It's not as hard as it sounds. And I'm not suggesting 
you devote your leisure time to reading every trendy
new text on the management of poetic economies.
That would be cutting off your schlong to spite your twat.
Besides, there's more to a poem than the evocation of

a progressive society of discourses, working in tandem
with history to throw off its shackles. Peeking through
its barbed wire borders (like people begging to enter a
concentration camp) are the readers of the future. They are
The only ones you can trust to understand your poem.

It's too taxing for the rest of os schmutz-peckers, trying to
earn a living in what used to be the world's richest empire.(Note: Google spell check does not recognize the words "cunt," "Stalinistic," "schlong," or "twat." "Schmutz-peckers," on the other hand, makes it through the gate.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 2 (Daniel Sada)

Casi Nunca
Sada, Daniel
Casi Nunca

Purchased at an event during the 2008 PEN World Voices Festival.

I went to New York as a guest blogger for the festival and also to check out potential speakers for the then-brand-new Babel series. I believe this event took place at the Instituto Cervantes. It was a celebration of the publisher of this book, Anagrama, which functions in the Spanish-speaking word in much the same way as New Directions does in the English. That is, they publish high quality literature from around the world instead of pumping out bestsellers.

The panel consisted of Daniel Sada, Enrique Vila-Matas, Siri Hustvedt, another woman I can't remember, another male writer, possibly Ernesto Grossman, and the publisher, whose name I can't recall. Paul Auster was sitting in the front row.

My most vivid memory is that the translator was terrible. I understood all the Spanish, which was fine, but the translations were so bad that people in the audience started shouting out, "No, no," because she kept missing the meaning. Eventually, they yanked her off the stage and brought someone else out.

Anyhow, Daniel Sada talked about how he writes all of his sentences using classical Greek meters, which I found intriguing, so I bought this book, which I have yet to read. It's quite dense and requires more concentration than I have been able to give it.

Someday.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 1 (Nelly Sachs)

O The Chimneys
Sachs, Nelly
O The Chimneys: Selected Poems, including Eli, a verse play

Purchased online. This is one of those books that, in terms of its significance to me, might rightly be shelved under "Celan." I bought it when I was in a deep Paul Celan phase, having just read the correspondence between the two poets, both holocaust survivors. I don't think I read the poems all that closely, so I can't say I have a very strong sense of them.

from O The Chimneys

What secret cravings of the blood


What secret cravings of the blood,

Dreams of madness and earth
A thousand times murdered,
Brought into being the terrible puppeteer?

Him who foaming at the mouth

Dreadfully swept away
The round, the circling stage of his deed
With the ash-gray, receding horizon of fear?

O the hills of dust, which as though drawn by an evil moon

The murderers enacted:

Arms up and down,
Legs up and down
And the setting sun of Sinai's people
A red carpet under their feet.

Arms up and down,
Legs up and down
And on the ash-gray receding horizon of fear

Gigantic constellation of death
That loomed like the clock face of ages.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's: Stats

The R's
The R's

Well, that's it for the R's. The stats are as follows:

28 Authors
45 Volumes
45 Titles

Onward to S'ville!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 28 (Linda Russo)

Mirth
Russo, Linda
Mirth


Given to me by the author on a visit to Buffalo in 2008. Inscribed:

For Mike,

With gratitude &
In Friendship–

Linda

Tucson 2007 Buffalo 2008

Linda is an old friend and classmate of mine from the poetics program. She goes all the way back to the primordial soup of my time in Buffalo. I can remember helping her unpack when she arrived in the summer of 1998. She and Chris Alexander had just moved here from Utah. They rented a large apartment over on Hodge St. that became one of the social centers of the program.

For a couple of years they ran a reading series on the last Friday of the month out of the apartment. There was always food and drink and interesting pairings of poetics students and poets visiting from out of town. I remember they immediately got two cats and named one of them Kyger. I don't remember what they called the other one.

Chris eventually moved out and then into the apartment below me on College St., where he was a de facto roommate. Linda lived in a few other places while she was here and then ended up out in Oklahoma for a couple of years. She set up a reading for me and Charles Alexander there in the fall of 2007.

A year or so later she moved to Pullman, Washington where, in addition to writing, she has apparently taken up gardening.

from Mirth

Perfecto Fiesta

my party
that made
me cry---

it's my 
dress they
demand
and
the way
the sway
demands

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 27 (Salman Rushdie)

Midnight's Children
Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Sent to me by the publisher. Inscribed:

To Michael
with many thanks

Salman Rushdie

We brought Rushdie to Buffalo in 2010. It was by far the best attended of the event of the Babel series, selling out the entire lower level of Kleinhans Music Hall to the seat. That is, the lower level seats 1594, which, completely unintentionally, was the exact number of tickets we sold.

When Rushdie comes to town, everyone pretty much freaks out about security. Except him. He insists that the fatwa is in the past and that no special security measures need be taken on his behalf. Nonetheless, all of the various organizers get nervous and hire extra security. In addition to the single, armed, off-duty police officer we hire for each event, the entire security staff of the music hall was on hand at the behest of their legal dept.

Of course, nothing happened, and this was more or less the topic of Rushdie's talk. Intellectual freedom in the face of various kinds of repression.  Anyhow, I liked him. After the event I drove him back to the hotel. We sat out front in my car for a little while chatting about PEN International and the PEN World Voices festival. And that was that.

from Midnight's Children

I was born in the city of Bombay… once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it’s important to be more… On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. There were gasps. And, outside the window, fireworks and crowds. A few seconds later, my father broke his big toe; but his accident was a mere trifle when set beside what had befallen me in that benighted moment, because thanks to the occult tyrannies of those blindly saluting clocks I had been mysteriously handcuffed to history, my destinies indissolubly chained to those of my country. For the next three decades, there was to be no escape. Soothsayers had prophesied me, newspapers celebrated my arrival, politicos ratified my authenticity. I was left entirely without a say in the matter. I, Saleem Sinai, later variously called Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer, Budha and even Piece-of-the-Moon, had become heavily embroiled in Fate – at the best of times a dangerous sort of involvement. And I couldn’t even wipe my own nose at the time.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 26 (Juan Rulfo)

Pedro Páramo
Rulfo, Juan
Pedro Páramo


Purchased at Rust Belt Books. I bought this a couple of summers ago, during the Year of Reading in Spanish, which actually lasted about two years. For some reason that escapes me, I never finished it. I only made it to page 40, if the book mark is to be believed. Alas.

It had been recommended to me by my friend Gregg, who, as I have mentioned before, also read Spanish, and does so often enough that we have formed a sort of de facto book club.

I meant to put everyone on notice yesterday that the Aimless Reading project is going to go through some gaps in the coming weeks as we prepare to move to New Haven. Last week's absence was caused by the fact that we were in New Haven looking for an apartment. I am happy to report that we found one.

That said, I do not plan on taking most of my books out of boxes until we find a more permanent place to live. I do intend to keep S-Z available in order to ensure the continuity of the project. Looking at my books right now, I'd say I have less than a year left to go on the project.

I wonder what I'll do with myself once this complete?

from Pedro Páramo


Vine a Comala porque me dijeron que acá vivía mi padre, un tal Pedro Páramo. Mi
madre me lo dijo. Y yo le prometí que vendría a verlo en cuanto ella muriera. Le apreté
sus manos en señal de que lo haría; pues ella estaba por morirse y yo en plan de
prometerlo todo. «No dejes de ir a visitarlo -me recomendó-. Se llama de otro modo y de
este otro. Estoy segura de que le dará gusto conocerte.» Entonces no pude hacer otra cosa
sino decirle que así lo haría, y de tanto decírselo se lo seguí diciendo aun después que a
mis manos les costó trabajo zafarse de sus manos muertas.


Todavía antes me había dicho:


-No vayas a pedirle nada. Exígele lo nuestro. Lo que estuvo obligado a darme y nunca
me dio... El olvido en que nos tuvo, mi hijo, cóbraselo caro.


-Así lo haré, madre.


Pero no pensé cumplir mi promesa. Hasta que ahora pronto comencé a llenarme de
sueños, a darle vuelo a las ilusiones. Y de este modo se me fue formando un mundo
alrededor de la esperanza que era aquel señor llamado Pedro Páramo, el marido de mi
madre. Por eso vine a Comala.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 25 (Camille Roy)

Swarm
Roy, Camille
Swarm


Sent to me by the author in anticipation of her visit to Buffalo in 1998.

When I took over the job at Just Buffalo, six months' worth of programs had already been laid out for me in advance, of which Camille Roy's reading was one. I can't quite remember who she read with, but I have a feeling it was something of an odd pairing, possibly a mainstream poet like Pattiann Rogers or Dorianne Laux, two others who were on my initial list. I didn't know any of their work at the time, and a lot of my job involved getting to know the landscape.

I don't have any highly specific memories of her visit. I remember she had short-cropped, dyed-blond hair. I've never run into her again personally, but I do occasionally see photos of her popping up on Facebook, in which she looks almost nothing like the person I remember meeting.

Ah, memory.

from Swarm

Lucy put down the knife she was using to slice carrots, then picked up a cigarette balanced on the rim of the sink. She took a drag and sighed, eyeing me carefully. "Start packing, kiddo," she said. "This summer you're going to be staying with the Budds."


Oh mom...A whine went off in my brain, but I kept it zipped. That phrase was too humiliating. For a long moment we both watched her smoke drift under the kitchen light. Then I chose one of lucy's own favorite expressions. "So this is the cutty sark..."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 24 (Arundhati Roy)

The God of Small Things
Roy, Arundhati
The God of Small Things


Given to me by my boss at Just Buffalo, Laurie Dean Torrell.

One of the programs I took over at Just Buffalo when I became Artistic Director was a civic reading event called, "If All Of Buffalo Read the Same Book." These kinds of events take place all over the country, usually centering on apolitical, uncontroversial fiction, or on books discussing topics of local interest. When I surveyed the books chosen in most places, my response was almost always to snort or to snore.

When we were trying to select a book for the 2004 edition, I told Laurie that I wanted to choose a book that had a little more heft, one that might challenge readers a bit. One day, while we walked through Talking Leaves Books, she pulled a book off the shelf by Jumpa Lahiri and asked what I thought. I said if we were going to go for an Indian author, why not Arundhati Roy? I think Laurie bought her book on the spot, while I set to work figuring out how to contact her.

I didn't really think it would be possible, given our budget, to even contact her, much less convince her  to come to Buffalo for three full days of events. It didn't take very long, actually, to find her agent in New York. It turned out that the biggest obstacle was getting her to the states because she required first class air from New Delhi, which costs a pretty penny. One of our board members stepped up and donated enough frequent flier miles to pay for the whole trip, so she agreed to two major public events, plus a series of book signings and school visits around town.

She traveled to Buffalo with her agent, Anthony Arnove. I picked them up at the airport. I remember she wore jeans and bright red tennis shoes and that she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. I dropped them off at the hotel and returned a few hours later to pick them up for the first event, a celebration of The God of Small Things at the Unitarian Church on Elmwood Ave. When I arrived, I found her standing outside the hotel, breathtaking in a white sari.

As they got into the car I said, I feel under-dressed.

You're supposed to, said her agent.

I think abut six hundred people showed up for the event, including Ani Difranco, who sat in the front row. Afterwards, we went out to dinner with Ani and her manager, Scot Fisher. It was kind of surreal. This was the fall of 2004, smack in the middle of the presidential race. As you can imagine, dinner talk was all politics and the two famous women couldn't have been more different.

I would describe Ani as all heart, someone who believes in what she believes and who follows those beliefs instinctively. Arundhati, on the other hand, is a powerhouse intellect who, though equally passionate, backs up her argumentative fire with exhaustive research which she expresses in perfectly constructed sentences and paragraphs.

While their politics might have seemed, especially to Ani, copacetic, the differences were actually rather pronounced. Ani was at the time doing a sort of "Rock the Vote" tour in support of John Kerry. Arundhati, on the other hand, was more or less saying that Kerry and Bush were the same and that we should really be working to overthrow the whole system currently in place in the U.S. DiFranco definitely seemed to want to find common ground. I didn't get the same feeling from Roy.

The next day I took her on the Niagara Falls tour and the Buffalo Entropy tour. She told me she loved whitewater rafting. She told me about what it was like to serve on the jury at Cannes. She told me about a friend of hers who climbed to the top of Everest and how when he tried to piss it froze in a golden arch before it hit the ground. She told me how speaking at public events made her nervous because she always had to remember that every word she said would be broadcast around the world.

I took her to the Saigon Cafe for lunch. She asked the waiter to bring a side dish of their hottest chiles, which she ate by the spoonful, complaining that American food had not taste at all.

For the second event, we brought up Amy Goodman from New York to perform a live interview at the First Presbyterian Church. Something like 1100 people showed up. It was up to that time the largest audience we'd ever had for an event. They talked mostly about politics and the presidential election and so on. A few annoying people got up and tried to give speeches at the mic promoting one cause or the other or to attack Roy or Goodman.

Frankly, I enjoyed the literary event more.

Afterwards, I was treated to another celebrity dinner with Arundhati and Amy. We ate at Toro, a pseudo-tapas place on Elmwood Ave.  Goodman struck me as someone who works way too hard! At the time, she was broadcasting from different cities every day. During dinner, she fell asleep at the table. At one point, Anthony Arnove asked me to repeat a story I'd read in the paper about Donald Trump coming to speak at UB and charging a fee of $200,000!

As soon as I said this, Goodman perked up, as if the scent of a news story hit her like smelling salts.

"Where did you hear this story?"

"Buffalo News."

"So you think it is probably true."

"Yes."

"So you are telling me that the taxpayer-funded State University of New York at Buffalo is paying Donald Trump $200,000 to speak for one hour."

"That's correct."

"That's going to be on the show tomorrow."

And sure enough, the next day, during a live broadcast on Democracy Now, she interviewed Prof. Bruce Jackson of the UB English department and spent a good part of the conversation discussing this absurd situation.

Arundhati was very sweet when we said goodbye at the airport. She asked if it she had done alright. I said I thought the whole city, myself included, was in love. She gave me a hug and stepped into the airport.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 24 (Jean-Jacques Rousseau)

The Confessions
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques
The Confessions

Purchased at the late, lamented Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store for $3, new. Not bad. Those days appear to be fading into the distant past. But then again, so do the days of books.

I thought of the place when I went to the outlet mall last weekend to buy some new clothes. It used to sit across the way from Saks. Saks' parking lot is the first one encounters entering the mall drive from Niagara Falls Boulevard. A large mural depicting a smiling gaggle of multicultural tourists gazing at the falls adorns the wall next to the entrance.

I always park there and I always pass through Saks on the way in, sometimes stopping to shop for designer bargains that are now less plentiful than in the days when the dollar was strong. Now the mall is thronged with bargain-hungry Canadians willing to pay full U.S. retail for damaged corporate goods because of the relative strength of their currency.

Anyhow, what was once a book store is now a Levi's outlet. Do people still wear Levi's?

from The Confessions

I have resolved on an enterprise which has no precedent, and which, once complete, will have no imitator. My purpose is to display to my kind a portrait in every way true to nature, and the man I shall portray will be myself.


Simply myself. I know my own heart and understand my fellow man. But I am made unlike any one I have ever met; I will venture to say that I am like no one in the whole world. I may not be better, but at least I am different. Whether nature did well or ill in breaking the mould in which she formed me, is a question which can only be resolved after the reading of my book.